My daughter brought to my attention recently, a quote that she found on the internet which spoke about the idea of failing to succeed. The quote made reference to a couple of well-known identities who had experienced failure in their life, prior to becoming successful in their chosen fields. One example was Oprah, who despite being sacked from a journalist position at the age of twenty three, went on to become one of the most recognisable television interviewers of her time.
The message in this quote clearly resonated with my pre-teen, likely because she is at a stage of life where her sense of self is being challenged and developed, and equally when she is more susceptible to messages that she receives about what success looks like. These messages not only come from home, but also school, her friends and peers, and from wider society. Our conversation was a great reminder to me as a parent, but also for me in my work with our students, to be more aware of how we measure success, and what our young people are hearing about what it means to be successful in life.
So, how do we measure success? Is it by what we have and what we can do, is it how happy and purposeful we are, or is it by the resilience we show to persist through adversity and failure? I suspect there are many ways we can measure success.
I speak with many students who are struggling, challenging and developing a sense of who they are and where they fit in the world, and for some of them, school is not always a place they feel successful. This can be devastating and many feel the pressure to achieve success as is defined in a school setting, and many are very aware that they don’t meet the criteria for success at school.
This is therefore a challenge for us as educators in schools – to help our diverse cohort of students to see school as a place they are supported to be themselves, and where they can be successful, no matter their academic abilities. As parents too, it is important to examine our own expectations of success for our children, and to help our children and young people understand that failure and mistakes are acceptable, can be seen as opportunities for learning and in fact are necessary for growth. That success can be, and should be, defined in many ways.
At St Martins there are many opportunities for our students to be involved in activities, outside of the academic curriculum, that allow them to use their talents and strengths, and to feel successful. I was thrilled to be witness to our Jazz Choir perform at the Generations in Jazz event over the weekend. The girls in the choir, ranging from Year 6 to Year 12, supported one another, worked together as a team and represented their school with pride. It was most wonderful to see the way the older girls in the choir interacted so genuinely with and mentored the younger students. In my opinion, that’s what success looks like.